Aspen is third on S.California destination list |

Aspen is third on S.California destination list

Brent Gardner-Smith

If it seems like there are more visitors in town this Christmas season from Southern California, that may indeed just be the case.

A survey of more than 50 travel agents affiliated with the Automobile Club of Southern California found that Aspen is the third-most-popular vacation destination this holiday season for SoCal folks.

Hawaii is the most popular destination, according to the survey, then Lake Tahoe and Aspen. Rounding out the top five are Mammoth Lakes, home to the Mammoth Mountain ski area, and Mexico.

Hawaii is often near the top of the Auto Club’s survey, but it is rare for Aspen to show up in the top five.

“Aspen was a bit of a surprise,” said Marie Montgomery of the Auto Club. “I guess a lot of people are opting to ski this year.”

Last year, the top holiday destinations for Southern Californians were Las Vegas, Hawaii, Mexico, San Francisco and New York. No ski resorts made the list that year. In 1998, the top three destinations were Las Vegas, San Francisco and the mountains above San Bernardino, which include several ski areas.

The Auto Club estimates that 4.4 million people from Southern California will travel over the holiday season to destinations at least 100 miles from home. A national AAA survey projects that 60 million Americans will travel over the holidays.

The Auto Club books more leisure travel that any other travel agency in the western U.S., and it has more than 50 travel agency locations throughout Southern California.

“For many Southern Californians, the December holiday period presents a rare vacation opportunity, and this season is almost as popular as the summer months for family vacation bookings,” said Tim Irwin, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel.

If they are indeed coming to Aspen, they are likely flying in on the daily non-stop flight on United Express between Los Angeles and Aspen, which started up for this season last week.

Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations, notes that California has always represented a good market for Aspen, and that the state is the third-largest market behind Florida and Texas.

But there has been no special marketing push in Southern California this year, beyond an expensive ad in the Los Angeles Times ski section this fall. Tomcich figures that Mother Nature should probably get most of the praise.

“It is very well known that Colorado has snow, and maybe that is why we would make the list,” he said.

Tomcich may be on to something.

“Lake Tahoe and Mammoth are both big ski resort areas, and they are also top destinations on this year’s survey, so our members our booking more ski travel over this holiday season,” said the Auto Club’s Montgomery. “Also, ski vacations tend to be large friend and family-reunion types of getaways, so they can involve a greater average number of travelers per booking than a typical vacation with Mom, Dad and two kids.”

And it has been Tomcich’s experience that skiers in Southern California tend to ski early in the season and stop skiing by March.

“When it rains in Southern California, everybody thinks about skiing,” he said. “It doesn’t rain much there in March.”

Florida is also turning into a hot market for Aspen this winter, and tour operators there are saying there is a lot of pent-up demand in that market for Colorado, given the relatively thin snow years the state has seen recently.

Occupancy rates in Aspen lodges this week are expected to be at least in the 80 percent range.

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